Earlier this week, my husband and I attended a holiday gathering of friends. After dinner, our hostess invited everyone to share a Christmas memory. All of those present were at least middle-aged. There were a few memories offered of recent Christmases–our community experienced a very rare Christmas Eve snowfall a few years ago following months during which several of us had parents die, and more than one of us mentioned that beautiful and almost-never-happens snow. A few of us mentioned childhood Christmases, traditional decorations, and favorite toys.
A surprising number of us offered Christmas memories from adolescence and early adulthood. There were stories of trips taken with friends during college breaks and of first Christmases away from family, chosen or not. Many of these were funny stories about travel mishaps. A few of them were stories about surprises and expectations that were unmet and yet transformed. The stories were about adventure and about separation. They were also about discovery and authenticity and beginning to consider creating one’s own Christmas traditions. As friends told these stories, they appeared enlivened by the telling. It was easy to imagine them as teenagers, laughing and seeking adventure.
I wondered later about the specific poignancy of adolescence and Christmas and this theme of striking out on one’s own during the very season generally thought of as a family celebration. It was interesting to me that so many of our friends drew Christmas memories from their teenage years. Perhaps it is in the darkness of this season, waiting for Light to come, that we may feel closer to our adolescent selves (and those adolescents near us now). We want tradition and connection, and, like teenagers, we still yearn for something new to happen, for someone new to come along. Although we may treasure all we have known, the very heart of Christmas lies in this newness and in the excitement of anticipation and surprise. Like teenagers, during Christmas we may open most easily to new love, to new hope, to new grace–all the while steeped in profound history and tradition. In the midst of this adolescent paradox, we are drawn to the past and future simultaneously and we find ourselves in the present, open to surprise and adventure once more.
Let us honor adolescence in all its proud and brave glory, within us and around us, this Christmas–may we seek and discover what newness is waiting to be born, in our hearts and in our world.